SHO KOSUGI: MASTER OF THE MOVIE NINJA by Mary Townsley
Sho Kosugi is the hottest thing going in ninja movies today. The thirty-nine year old martial artist has credits that include Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination, 9 Deaths of the Ninja, The Master, The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, and now Pray for Death. His latest film, Rage of Honor has just been completed but is still in the editing stages, so the public has not yet had access to it. Not too shabby for a person who began martial arts training because his older sisters thought he was a "mama's boy" and needed to learn to be strong as well as strong-minded.
Sho was born in Tokyo in 1948. He began studying the martial arts at age five and now has mastered nine different arts. His home in Arcadia, California has one room devoted exclusively to his vast weapons collection that numbers over 650 at this time. There are 120 different throwing stars.
Starring in ninja movies isn't all fun and games according to Sho, "I almost killed myself four times during my movies," he tells us when elaborating on working his own stunts. He doesn't work with stuntmen as a rule since he prefers to use local martial artists who are more than willing to "be in the movies"! "Wherever I go I give opportunity to all martial artists," he says. "I don't use stuntmen. They think they're the best, but I don't like their philosophy. I like to use martial artists because they're always very humble and they work very, very hard. The pay is not so good, but at least they get an opportunity. They know how to take a fall and they know how to kick."
Sho came to the United States in 1969 to attend California State University at Los Angles. He has a Bachelor degree in economics. Originally he planned to go into international trading, the import/export business. During his school years he opened a martial arts school and ran the import/export business on the side. As more and more students came to his school, however, the teaching occupied more of his time than the other business. He eventually expanded to two locations and seemed happy with the direction his life was going.
Sho's wife is Chinese. He taught her the martial arts for four years until she started raising his children (Kane is 11, Shane, 9 and Ayeesha is 2½). In 1981 Mike Stone wrote the script for Enter the Ninja and sold it to Cannon Films. He was supposed to star in the film but ran into difficulties with the producer who then brought in Franco Nero to star. Mike originally asked Sho to play a bit part in the movie. But as producers watched Sho on his first day of shooting, they were impressed with his natural acting ability as a ninja and increased his part. From there Sho Kosugi became synonymous with "Ninja".
Turning his schools over to his students was an easy task for Sho when the movie business became productive. "I had more than enough teaching," he states. "You contribute so much time to the person (student) and because he changes jobs he quits or feels he doesn't like it and quits. So all the energy you spent with that person…someone you created…you don't get the return. I don't get the mental satisfaction because I feel, 'This guy is very good. I'm going to try and teach all my skill.' But suddenly he's got to go away and there is nothing you can do."
"So now I teach my sons. Now I make them study because it is good for them. Just like when they're young you force them to do what's good for them. It's good self-discipline, self-control. They need martial arts in the United States. Children in private schools learn good manners, but children on the street need to learn martial arts to learn good manners."
Sho's hobbies include reading, swimming, tennis, relaxing while watching movies and sports with his kids. He has competed in karate tournaments in the past in Tokyo, Seattle, San Diego and Mexico. His collection of over 600 trophies include winning the LA Open in 1972, 1973 and 1974.
Sho doesn't believe the average martial artist will have the same success he has had in the movies. "I was in the right place at the right time with the right things I did," he says. "To be honest, it's almost impossible for martial artists to get into movies as the star now. I work so hard and it was not easy to get a part to start with and they were looking for that part! I knew right things for ninja. Martial arts movies will continue forever, but up and down. Ninja movies are very hot right now and will continue a couple more years. I don't expect my movie career to be forever. I have a limit to acting. Maybe I'll go to producing and directing."
"Ninja do espionage and assassination. Some ninja are good. If you work for the government, you're good. If you work for an individual you're bad. Movies are always exaggerated. It looks very easy, but to get dynamic movements and dynamic tension on screen you have to do it almost for real. I broke my heels twice, dislocated my shoulder three times. A one-and-a-half-hour movie takes about one year to make with location scouting, hiring, shooting and editing."
Sho's father is a retired fisherman who still lives in Japan. He is proud of his son and told him earlier in life, "Whatever you do, as long as you can take care of yourself and are happy, that's fine."
Sho has been on a relentless tour, promoting Pray for Death. In each city he works a grueling schedule teaching seminars at local martial arts schools, appearing on TV and radio and helping with community groups like Big Brothers and Sisters. His objective is to promote his current movie, but he goes one step beyond to make friends with the people he meets and pass on some of the good manners he has learned through the martial arts. He is a considerate and thoughtful man who has earned the respect of martial artists and movie fans worldwide.